Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Book Review: Or, How Much Crap Do I Have To Wade Through To Get A Good Book About Grief?

As part of this whole awful horrible, terrible, no-good year, I have been casting about for ways to help myself; thankfully, I don't know any other widows my age, and losing a husband, especially unexpectedly and under the circumstances in which he died (me out of town, Sicily opening the door at 4 a.m. to the police...good times), makes for an even rarer breed of widow. This is definitely a good thing, my lack of contacts in the widowed world.

However. Makes it hard to know what's normal. Makes it hard to gauge my progress or lack thereof. I know that's weird, but sometimes having even one person who has been there and understands what you need (or don't need) helps.

So I looked at some self-help books (lots of stuff about God: not for me. Lots of schmaltzy schlocky crap: not for me). I went to therapy (not a ton of help, although she meant well, tried hard and is doing GREAT for Sicily). I joined an online community and started writing this blog, and those two things led to this: a book that actually helped.

Catherine Tidd is the author of Confessions of a Mediocre Widow: Or, How I Lost My Husband And My Sanity; she is also the founder of the online community I joined.  Catherine's husband died in a motorcycle accident when he was 34, leaving 31-year-old Catherine widowed with three children under six. In addition to founding a very supportive place online for other widow(er)s, Catherine has also written the only book on being suddenly widowed that actually completely GETS IT.

She gets the shock that comes after death.

She gets the manic need to move on and the paralyzing inability to remember where you put the shoes you JUST TOOK OFF.

She gets the weird look people get when you bring up your dead husband, and understands the sharp intake of breath that people have when you refer to him as "my dead husband" (see also references to "The Widow Card").

She even gets the complicated mess that is dating as a widow.

And WOW, does she ever get the blessing and a curse that is being a widow with children.

Catherine Tidd explains in direct, funny, and honest language what it is like to be left without the person who knows you the best; she talks about what it's like trying to figure out how to do all the stuff that the other person used to do (and which you probably took for granted); she explains the difference between "regular lonely" and "widow lonely" in the way I see it in my head, only she has managed to put it into words:

"The best way I can describe it is the worst kind of homesickness you can imagine because you can't pinpoint what it is you're missing. It's more than just losing a person - it's yearning for a way of life you had and know you will never have again. And the difference between being widowed and other types of loss is that, in most cases, we've lost the person we could lean on and talk to about the despair that we're feeling. We've lost the person we can be most honest with. We've lost the person who would hand us a box of tissues and a glass of wine, hoping that our nervous breakdown would stop before halftime was over."

Above all, Tidd gives grieving widows the room in this book to laugh, to be lost, to be found, to be angry, to grieve, to grow and to move on. At the end she offers suggestions of what to say and do for widows and also for people who are grieving with them. This was the only helpful book that I have read about becoming and being a widow. I found myself laughing and listening to Tidd as I would listen to a friend telling her story; she has a voice that is compelling, a story that is real and a book that is an invaluable addition to grief memoirs. I cannot recommend it highly enough, and not just for widows; for those of you who are watching me (or someone else) go through this process, Tidd's book offers insight into what is happening as we experience the awfulness of widowhood.

I don't really share self-help books much, but this one was a bit of a revelation.  I hope none of you need it, but if you do, or if you know someone who does, I cannot recommend it enough.

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